Activists Call for End to Gridlock in Judicial Appointments

Severino: 'Evidently Senate Democrats have a problem with accomplished, articulate conservative women'

U.S. Supreme Court building / Getty Images
September 7, 2017

Conservative activists are accusing Senate Democrats of hypocrisy for holding up the nominations of a number of President Donald Trump's appointees to the federal bench.

Carrie Severino, a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and president of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, accused Senate Democrats of obstructing the appointments of "well qualified" nominees to federal courts.

Severino said Democrats were holding up the nominations of Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and Notre Dame law school Prof. Amy Coney Barrett to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Both nominees received "well qualified" ratings from the American Bar Association (ABA)—the highest possible grade—though a minority of voters opted for a "qualified" rating for Barrett.

"They are two of the most impressive lawyers of their generation and bring with them extensive experience," Severino said in a statement. "Evidently Senate Democrats have a problem with accomplished, articulate conservative women."

Democrats on the committee grilled the nominees at a Wednesday Judiciary Committee hearing. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), ranking member on the committee, criticized Barrett, a Catholic mother of seven children, for her faith during a Judiciary Committee hearing, saying, "the dogma lives loudly within you and that's of concern."

"I would never impose my own personal convictions on the law," Barrett said during the question and answer session.

Larsen, meanwhile, was asked about whether she would be willing to rule against the Trump administration by Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa).

"I would have absolutely no trouble ruling against the president who appointed me or any successor president," she said.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.) also asked Larsen about supportive ads paid for by the Judicial Crisis Network, which has launched similar campaigns to support the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Whitehouse previously criticized Gorsuch for the group's support and even turned to a liberal dark money group to criticize JCN before the committee.

"What do they think they're going to get for their investment in your candidacy for the court?" Whitehouse asked Larsen.

"If anyone thinks they are buying something in terms of commercial interests, I don’t think my record bears that out," she responded.

Barrett and Larsen are not the only nominees who have aroused opposition from Democrats.

Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.) announced on Tuesday he would oppose Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras's appointment to the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals. Franken praised Stras as a "committed public servant" when Trump nominated him in May. Franken flip flopped on the nomination because he was concerned that Stras could "perpetuate the racial divide" in the legal system, while also criticizing the nominee for considering Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, an African American, a mentor.

"Early in his career, Justice Stras worked as a law clerk for Justice Thomas, one of the Supreme Court's most conservative members. Justice Stras has described Justice Thomas as a mentor," Franken said in a release. "I am concerned that a nominee nurtured by such an ideology would likely seek to impose it on the litigants before him."

Jeremy Adler, a spokesman for America Rising Squared, said that Franken's opposition rang of hypocrisy in light of his past statements saying that "highly qualified people" should be confirmed to federal judicial posts without delay. Stras, like Barrett and Larsen, also received a "well qualified" rating from the ABA.

"For someone who slammed ‘procedural tactics’ [for] obstructing ‘highly qualified people’ from serving on the federal bench, Al Franken should be ashamed of his hypocrisy," Adler said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Sen. Franken prioritizes the interests of activist liberals above advancing the nomination of a qualified Minnesotan."

Trump nominated Barrett, Larsen, and Stras on May 8. Severino urged Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and other Senate Republicans to move forward with the nominations in spite of Democratic opposition to fill those vacancies.

"It's time to end the gridlock. The American people deserve judges faithful to the rule of law, not to Washington special interests," she said. "Senator Grassley has all the evidence he needs that Democrats have abused the blue slip process, and that it is time to move forward despite the obstruction."